Pablo Sandoval is swinging to success
Giants hitter takes great pleasure in hacking often
Pablo Sandoval has never met a pitch he didn't like.
High and outside is fine with him. Low and inside works just as well. Strike or ball, it doesn't matter at all. The Giants' plumber-shaped third baseman explains his hitting philosophy with refreshing candor.
"I see the ball. I hit the ball."
The club has tried to change that, and Sandoval laughs at their efforts.
"They try to make me more selective," he said. "But you know, any pitch they throw, wherever it is, I like it."
That approach worked very well for Hall-of-Famer Yogi Berra, a notorious bad-ball hitter, and Sandoval, who knows all about Berra's reputation, has made himself successful with it as well. He once dug a pitch out of the dirt and hit it for a home run. He routinely swings at balls over his head and once doubled on a pitch that was supposed to be part of an intentional walk.
He does not believe in working the count. He is up there to swing and leads the Majors in first-pitch hacks. He was second in the National League in hitting in mid-August and is especially dangerous with two out, hitting better than .360 in those situations. He has quickly emerged as the go-to guy in the Giants attack, their leading long ball threat and their leading run producer.
And, boy, is he having fun in his first full Major League season. He plays with a perpetual smile, with the kind of ebullience and enthusiasm that spreads through a clubhouse.
"I always have fun," he said. "On the field, you forget everything else."
Sandoval jumped to the Giants last August after beginning the season in Class A and never had played above Double-A when he got to San Francisco. He was an immediate hit, batting .345 in 145 at-bats and carving a full-time role for himself.
"It has been an exciting year," he said. "I've been here one year, and when they call you up, you think maybe I'll be there a couple of days, maybe a couple of weeks. They didn't tell me anything. They said, `Come and play.' So I play. I play on instinct."
And it works for him.
Sandoval lets nothing stand in his way. Growing up in Venuezela, he was left-handed. "My hero was Omar Vizquel. I want to play shortstop like him," he said.
There aren't too many left-handed shortstops, though, a problem Sandoval solved with refreshing simplicity. "I practiced every day throwing right-handed." he said. "Practiced for one month. Now I am right-handed."
He is also a switch hitter, among the very few who are also switch throwers. A third baseman, Sandoval has also been used as a first baseman and at catcher. Whatever manager Bruce Bochy wants, he'll do. "I just want to play," he said. "I want to be in the lineup every day."
And in a Giants lineup that is sometimes challenged offensively, the 23-year-old is a cornerstone. He keeps the clubhouse loose. When a pair of new cleats arrived in mid-season, Sandoval opened the box only to find them in Cardinal red colors. This did not go over well with the orange-and-black colors of the Giants.
"So I gave them to my brother," Sandoval said.
Listed at 5-foot-11, 246-pounds and equipped with an ample midsection, he comes to the plate looking like somebody out of a beer softball league. And he reminds his teammates that baseball is supposed to be fun.
When he sidestepped a tag at home plate with a neat bit of footwork last September, pitcher Barry Zito gave the fireplug-shaped Sandoval a nickname. In the clubhouse, he is Kung Fu Panda.
Some people might object to being named after a cuddly cartoon character. Not Sandoval. "I love that nickname," he said.
And the Giants love their cuddly third baseman.
Hal Bock is a freelance writer based in New York.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.